Tuesday, May 6, 2008

CALPIRG Mobilizes Students for High Speed Rail

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

When I was a UC Berkeley undergrad in the late '90s CALPIRG was best known for activism on financial issues - student fees, credit card companies, things of that sort. Worthy causes, of course, but I never expected them to get that involved in high speed rail. That's exactly what they've done, however, over the last few months. From their high speed rail spring break in March to their current activism on campuses like UC Irvine CALPIRG has emerged as one of the most important organizations backing the HSR project.

CALPIRG's legislative director, Steve Blackledge, has an op-ed at the California Progress Report explaining CALPIRG's strong support for HSR, emphasizing energy independence:

Nothing bums me out like realizing that all the money I spend on gas helps keep oil barrens like ExxonMobil in the black, while contributing to smog and global warming.

One good thing about high-speed rail: No gas. And right now, with gas prices going from costly to scary, that's no small advantage....

California has a choice to make. With our growing population we have increasing transportation needs, however expanding highways and airports have huge price tags attached. For example, the master plan to expand LAX airport would cost more than $11 billion. Meeting interstate requirements for Highway 99 in the Central Valley and widening to eight lanes would cost between $20 billion and $25 billion. Expanding roads and airports cost us more than just money รข?" they also increase our oil dependence, contribute to sprawl, and lead to even more unhealthy pollution.

All are excellent points, and students find them compelling. Earlier today I asked students in my poli sci class to propose a solution to the problem of high gas prices - they could offer whatever they chose, and I expected half would try to focus on lowering prices at the pump and the other half would focus on alternatives. As it turned out, virtually all of them focused on alternatives, with three quarters calling for higher gas taxes (and most of my students are car commuters!). High speed rail was a frequently cited proposal they wanted to build, which warmed my heart because I haven't mentioned it or this blog to them at all.

And we would be wrong to dismiss this student support for HSR. Polls show that young people are going to turn out in enormous numbers this fall, and that will only be solidified with Obama on the ballot in November, as now seems likely. Strong support from California's students may be what helps the HSR bond survive the election.

It would be fitting. If the students are our future, they're making a strong statement about what kind of future they want - a future with sustainable transportation like high speed rail.


Anonymous said...

If Sen. Obama wins the nomination, perhaps he could invite Gov. Schwarzenegger to deliver a narrowly focused speech on clean energy and high speed rail at the Democratic convention in August. Arnold would participate in his official capacity of governor of the state of California and articulate how by working together, states, the federal government and private investors can address the issue of the nation's crumbling infrastructure.

It would be one example of what bringing change to Washington would mean in practice. It would also show Obama is reaching out to moderate Republicans and at the same time, underline his differences with Sen. McCain's on public funding for passenger rail service.

However, Obama would first have to convince Sen. Reid that it would be in his state's best interest to pursue an spur off California's
steel wheels HSR network from Mojave to Las Vegas. The electricity for the entire system could then come from new thermal thermal plants in the two states, with the Hoover dam acting as a buffer.

Indeed, the masts of the catenary system could be longer than usual and do double duty by supporting not just the 25kV AC required to run the trains but also a new high-voltage DC trunk line from Nevada into the LA basin. Regular pylons would only be needed for a miles in Soledad Canyon, where the train must pass through tunnels.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, "thermal thermal" should of course be "solar thermal".

Robert said...

Also, the link that you provided has another link toward the bottom where you can e-mail your assembly person prior to tomorrows hearing on AB3034. Very easy way to provide input to your assembly member.

Other Robert

Anonymous said...

I find it very amusing that you find the support of HSR and CHSRA by CALPIRG interesting.

It is well known they are receiving funding from the propaganda machine put together by CHSRA, which is being funded by supporters who are in linke to make million and maybe even billions off this project.

They have recruited college students from several university campuses and are paying them as full time employees this summer to parade around the state promoting the bond issue.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Can you back up those charges with evidence? If not they should be retracted. I find it hard to believe it's a "well-known" fact when you are not willing to put your name to such a charge.

It is a standard CALPIRG practice to hire students to work on policy issues. There's nothing wrong with that and is instead to be encouraged and commended.

Anonymous said...

It's not just CalPIRG, there are others. For example, GG Xpress is urging SF State students to become active.


Anonymous said...

This is Emily Rusch, Advocate with CALPIRG here. To be clear, CALPIRG does not receive funding from HSRA or from any of the companies involved. In fact, I love working with CALPIRG in part because of the independence that comes with not taking money from any corporations or being aligned with any particular political party.

We take positions on issues based on our analysis of the facts. It's undeniable that the high-speed rail project will have huge benefits for our state, so we're working to build more support for the project.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Thanks for the comment, Emily, and for all the work you and CALPIRG have done for the HSR project.

Andrew said...

"High speed rail was a frequently cited proposal they wanted to build, which warmed my heart because I haven't mentioned it or this blog to them at all."

If they have not been exposed to your blog, what would you attribute this too? I would guess students who have studied abroad and used Passenger rail that is truly high-speed or at least far better than Amtrak service (or as my Brother and Father refer to Amtrak as third world rail transport). I took trains all over Scandinavia when I studied abroad in Oslo, Norway and attended a few meetings on bringing HSR to Norway connecting the three major Urban Areas; Oslo, Bergen, and Stavagner.

Just found your blog today, been following the updates from the CHSR site often, have enjoyed the renderings from NC3D, and wrote my senior thesis on the need for HSR in the Midwest:http://awambach.blogspot.com/2007/05/few-sections-from-thesis.html

Keep the updates coming and for the sake of the rest of the country get this thing passed so that we can have true passenger rail renewal.